By Anna Jauhola
Gabriel Mooney has a passion for independently owned healthcare.
He has spent the last several years working his way up healthcare management in Baudette, Roseau and Greenbush. He began as a dietitian in Baudette, oversaw several departments in Roseau’s LifeCare Medical Center and managed the Altru clinics in Roseau and Greenbush.
On June 15, Mooney made the move to become Kittson Healthcare’s new CEO.
“I’ve had my eye on this job for a while,” Mooney said. “It’s the closest hospital to home. For that matter, I really consider it home.”
Mooney holds a master’s degree in healthcare administration, which he obtained about seven years ago from University of South Dakota in Vermillion. He and his wife, Katelyn, bought the family farm where he grew up between Greenbush and Lake Bronson, about a mile and a half over the Kittson County line. Katelyn is from Bemidji, was an elementary teacher and now raises their two – soon to be three – children at home.
“As a kid growing up, I remember going to the Farmers Store. We came here for courthouse items before you could do things online,” Mooney said, adding some of his and his father’s land straddles the Kittson/Roseau border. “This is where we’d come for snowmobiling and riding ATV. We’d go to the county fair.”
After spending years at larger facilities and having the opportunity to see how they work, Mooney said independent health systems for small communities are really important.
“That’s the piece I really cling to,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of pride behind it and there should be. It’s a big draw for me.”
Although Mooney has only been on the job for three weeks, he has found everyone to be in their element. He has worked to meet people, starting with his leadership team, which he considers to be CFO/HR Director Jeni Schwenzfeier, Nursing Home Administrator and Public Health Director Cindy Urbaniak and Director of Nursing and Administrator of Hospital Services Tawnya Sorenson. From there, he’s been visiting with department directors and managers, along with employees throughout Kittson Healthcare, then into the community and the county.
“It’s going to be tricky, especially with COVID and no fair going on,” he said. “But I like to meet people. It goes beyond working because the aspect is, in your waking hours, you’re with these people more than with your family. I’m not looking at turning the world upside down. What’s been working here recently has been working. I don’t need to fix it or change it.”
Mooney said he hasn’t been privy to all details regarding the former turmoil that caused issues at the facility. However, in visiting with employees so far, he understands “there are definite wounds.”
Since he started, Mooney said he feels the management is balanced, the board has provided good guidance and has been transparent in its desired direction for the facility.
“They said, ‘We don’t want to have what happened to happen again,’” Mooney said. “I think they’ve learned from that piece of it.”
Mooney is a full-time equivalent salaried employee, which means his pay is based on 40 hours per week but he may put in more or less than that amount – usually more. He said his pay is comparable to that of CEOs in similar-sized facilities, and that he’s signed on as an employee “until further notice,” meaning his contract is indefinite.
He added the board’s No. 1 expectation of him is to be in the facility and community with the people. Mooney does not micromanage, he said. Instead, he – like the board for him – guides the department heads, bounces ideas, gives input and lets them do their jobs.
“Even though I ran food nutrition services, laundry, housekeeping and materials management, and a clinic, and worked in a lot of nursing homes – spent a lot of time in a hospital as a dietician – that doesn’t mean I’m going to know their job better than them,” Mooney said. “I guarantee I won’t, and I shouldn’t need to. It’s about getting the information needed and giving them the direction they need and problem-solving together.”
To better ensure the facility’s future, Mooney is also taking classes for his nursing home licensure. He said Everett Butler, former interim CEO, suggested and the hospital board agreed, the CEO should have the nursing home licensure as well.
“There is a passion in the building for staying independent and people really feel it’s their facility,” Mooney said. “If we don’t do well, we’re all feeling it.”
He’s already found that everyone who works at Kittson Healthcare takes great pride in it. Mooney said he is no different. He helped wax floors or cook meals at LifeCare in Roseau when the facility was short-handed.
“If things went poor here, like water in the basement and maintenance needs help, I guess I’ll take off my necktie and we’ll go at it,” he said. “I’m not going to be the leader in that piece and I’m not going to say I’ll be saving it. I’ll just be another body there helping.”
From what Mooney has seen so far, he finds Kittson Healthcare’s position to be strong. His goal is to help the facility remain strong and independent. He just began going over financials with Schwenzfeier and is impressed to see they’re better than he thought they’d be. He noted the facility is financially stable, but it’s not a banner year either. He hopes to take examples from other facilities he worked in and give suggestions here to make Kittson Healthcare even stronger.
“For the services we do provide, I want us to be able to provide the same quality of care they’d get somewhere else, if not better,” he said. “I don’t want people to feel like they have to drive an hour and 15 minutes for healthcare.”
He hopes to lead by example rather than words. Being present is key. Not only understanding the facility’s inner workings in each department, but also knowing the people who make them possible is important.
“I’m a leader of the organization, which is more about accountability for the organization,” he said. “But if there’s an HR issue, or nursing issue, etc., that’s going to be led by that department’s respective leader. I’m happy to lay the groundwork on it, but then the details really are with them.”
As he meets people within the facility, Mooney said meeting people out in the community is also crucial.
“Without community support, we’re in trouble,” he said. “And I think the community support, from the little bit I’ve been here, is strong.”
By Anna Jauhola